The weather tested the event more than it has for years but the 50th New Zealand National Agricultural Fieldays was still a huge success.
Cars parked on muddy paddocks by day three and four and some traffic delays were a testament to heavy rain on the Wednesday and in the weeks leading up to the biggest agricultural trade show in the southern hemisphere.
But the crowds still came, Mystery Creek hosted 300 visitors from more than 42 countries and many of the 1059 exhibitors across 1400 sites reported heavy sales.
Thursday’s attendance at 37,704 was the biggest Thursday ever but rain on Wednesday and Friday restricted numbers marginally.
Fieldays’ chief executive Peter Nation says bad weather was a significant factor, including the closure of the Napier/ Taupo road at one point and wet weather at Mystery Creek.
“With rain you tend to get people saying: ‘I won’t come today, I’ll leave it until tomorrow’ and numbers ended up slightly back on last year but only barely.”
He says the rain ruined paddocks set aside for parking and the event also had some traffic management issues at times.
Despite that, an overall attendance at 130,866 was only slightly behind last year’s record of 133,588. Peter says Fieldays normally receives about 3000 visitors from the South Island but feedback he has received suggests that this year there were many more than that. He questions whether the Society’s pre-Fieldays national roadshow which included an event in Southland and a subsequent story about Winton’s Bill Johnston who has attended all 50 Fieldays contributed to the extra interest.
And Peter says feedback from exhibitors was “outstanding” and all indications are that plenty of money was spent.
The event’s opening ceremony is always a highlight but this year’s ceremony held extra gravitas and was attended by Fieldays’ patron, Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy.
Peter in one of the 27 speeches he made over the four days – all written by himself – spoke of the changes the agricultural industry has seen over the last fifty years and introduced this year’s Fieldays’ theme of ‘the Future of Farming’.
“New Zealand and our agricultural industry is vastly different from what it was in 1969, largely driven by our hunger and desire to be leaders in our special industry,” he told the audience.
“As a small country at the bottom of the world we have utilised innovation and technology driven off the back of a Kiwi ‘can-do’ attitude to our advantage to make our mark on the world. Like our sporting achievements, agriculture also boxes far above its weight on the world stage. We produce world class food, world class technology and word class farmers.”
The ceremony continued with the raising of the Fieldays and New Zealand flags and finished with ribbon cutting by Fieldays president Peter Carr and Dame Patsy Reddy.
Celebrations continued with the President’s Luncheon where guests were treated to a menu designed and prepared by renowned chef Peter Gordon, showcasing some of the best of New Zealand’s primary produce. Courses featured exquisite Kiwi cuisine from all corners of the country with each dish being matched with some of New Zealand’s fantastic wines, thanks to Winefriend’s Yvonne Larkin.
“I was thrilled, and honoured, to be asked to create a lunch for the 50th celebrations,” says Peter. “I decided to break tradition and serve a five-course meal, showcasing the best of contemporary ‘ingredients’ grown and produced by New Zealand’s master farmers, innovators and forward thinking entrepreneurs,” he says.
The Fieldays Society had made significant changes for the all important 50th event including dumping the traditional Rural Bachelors competition in favour of an equal opportunity competition called Rural Catch, ultimately won by Taihape’s Mairi Whittle.
“Our sub-events were an outstanding success,” says Peter.
He was hugely impressed with the calibre of the Rural Catch participants.
“The winner of the rural catch was very worthy. She won fair and square. If this is a reflection on the young people and the future of farming then we are in good hands.”
The Kitchen Theatre with a line of top chefs demonstrating the paddock to dinner plate philosophy was well received while last year’s successful Health Hub was transformed into the Health and Wellbeing Hub which expanded the focus to wider rural mental health issues. Peter says whenever he visited the Health and Wellbeing Hub there were more than 100 people there each time.
Leading into the 50th Fieldays, the Society also organised a year of events and Peter feels they judged the tone about right.
“Overall I think we did we do justice to the 50th year. We said all along we wanted to celebrate our 50th but not go overboard. We wanted it to be a recognition of what we stood for and I think we achieved those things.”
Fifty years gone so what about the next fifty? On the back of another massive event Peter is understandably confident.
On the very first day he was delighted to hear one exhibitor inquiring about expanding his site for 2019.
“Before this event started he was already looking ahead. That’s a pretty good endorsement.”